How do education systems put student learning at the centre? – OECD Education Policy Dialogues 2018

OECD, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Spain, organized the first ever Education Policy Reform Dialogues in Madrid, Spain, on 11-12 June 2018. The purpose of this high-level forum was to create and strengthen a learning network of senior actors who are the key bridge between the political and technical worlds within a Ministry across OECD and non-OECD countries, in order to promote active exchanges of experiences and discuss lessons learned from OECD’s work on education policy on a yearly basis. The first part of the event was a Forum on stakeholder engagement and Parents International was invited to represent parents as main education stakeholders there.

The main aims of the peer-learning event were to

  • exchange on country experiences and the latest trends in education policies being implemented across the OECD area to address common challenges;
  • explore how countries are using evidence for policy reform or policy consolidation available to them as well as the transversal learning lessons that could be drawn; and
  • develop principles of policy change or consolidation in specific topics, based on comparative international evidence, to help countries reach their goals.

Participants came from a diverse group of OECD counties from Austria to Turkey (in alphabetical orders). The event was moderated by the former Minister of Education of New Zealand, Hekia Parata with special contribution from former Assistant Deputy Minister of Ontario, Canada, Mary Jane Gallagher. The outcomes of these discussions will also inform the future policy work of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills according to the organisers.

At the beginning of the event Andreas Schleicher, Director of OECD Education shared his thoughts on the occasion of launching the new OECD Education Policy Outlook – Putting Student Learning in the Centre. He highlighted a number of important issues most education systems are yet to tackle such as

  • the fact that teaching reading should become teaching critical reading as you cannot surely trust a printed source anymore;
  • with people spending more time online it is important to make sure we do not become slaves of the online world;
  • the growing gap between the needs of societies and what school can provide;
  • the fact that teaching and school-related learning time does not have a direct impact on actual learning, but rather the opposite is often true;
  • the fact that while class sizes are usually smaller for disadvantaged students and countries consider that a solution for equity, the reverse is true for teacher quality: privileged students can usually benefit from having better teachers, and thus equity is not achieved;
  • the necessity of cross-cutting measures in changing curricula in order to find answers to the challenge of delivering on skills for the future;
  • the need to train teachers better, to give them more space and encourage interdisciplinary learning and teaching
  • the need to find solutions for well-intended policies to reach classroom level;
  • the need to increase the quality of vocational education and training; and
  • the fact that while teachers know students learn best if they find solutions themselves, school practice and testing is still based on memorisation.

The main organiser of the event, Diana Toledo-Figueroa of OECD highlighted the importance of involving both students and parents in policy discussions and reform in order to have a shared understanding of principles and goals. The perception of schools is strongly influenced by what happens outside of school. Her colleague, Beatriz Pont, focusing on policy implementation, called the participants’ attention to the fact that education policy reform is not a linear process anymore. While you have to consider the context such as teacher training, resources, the necessary alignment with what is happening on the ground, you also have to be aware of possible reform fatigue, and of other processes and making synergies with them. She summarised the 4 elements of successful policy implementation: smart policy design, inclusive stakeholder engagement, conductive context and coherent policy implementation. The goal of the dialogue is to ensure this for making change happen on the ground for better learning.

Larissa Nenning, representing European secondary school students via OBESSU shared different practices for student participation highlighting that while involvement is increasing at grassroots level, it is still stagnant on national level, and its quality needs to be improved as it is still mostly traditional and it is not clear what impact it has on actual policy.

John Bangs, representing Education International the global teacher trade union indicated the link between strong trade unions and strong learning outcomes. He emphasised that while trade unions generally feel partly engaged in policy reform, there is still a lot to be done in the field of involvement in implementation and evaluation, too.

The business perspective was presented by Miriam Pinto who advocated for alignment of education systems and the future of work, especially soft skills, and mentioned historic inertia as the main obstacle. She called for effective education reforms on policy, system and stakeholder level at the same time.

Mary Jane Gallagher, previously responsible for a highly effective education reform in Ontario, Canada shared the shocking reality that

children are learning less the longer they are exposed to formal education.

She made it clear that most reforms fail on implementation level, especially because system complexity is usually underestimated, that means only a few necessary elements are tackled of the many instrumental for change teaching practices. She called policy makers to inspire greatness of all stakeholders. She also introduced the necessity to learn to direct your own learning, otherwise you will not become a lifelong learner while it is necessary for the future.

Presenting the parents’ perspective, Director of Parents International, Eszter Salamon recalled the international legal basis, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on parental responsibilities and governments’ obligation to finance education systems that support parents’ education duties. She called for a shift from involving the parents into existing reforms and processes towards engaging us in designing, implementing and evaluating reform. The major difference between engagement at policy and at grassroots level was also emphasised. She also advocated for involving all parents, even the most disadvantaged, as well as to implement structures – often missing today – that make meaningful rather than formal engagement of both parents and children possible. She also highlighted the important role of school heads as key actors in changing practices. She called for education reforms that have a holistic, lifelong learning approach, acknowledging all stages and forms of education: formal, non-formal, informal from early childhood to old age. Education policy should also listen to and reward non-formal education especially since there seem to be more successful equity and inclusion practices in non-formal than formal education. It is important to ask the right questions and use the right language (as well as implement non-discriminative funding) for the necessary improvement of learning outcomes regardless the form and place of learning.

OECD is planning to organise the Dialogue annually and we are looking forward to being part of it.

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